Solutions for Teaching in an Overcrowded Classroom

Crowded classrooms create problems, but solid coping strategies help

Students and teacher in classroom
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One of the biggest issues facing schools and teachers today is overcrowding. A combination of an increasing population and a decrease in funding has caused class sizes to soar. In an ideal world, class sizes would be capped at 15 to 20 students. Unfortunately, many classrooms now regularly exceed 30 students, and it is not uncommon for there to be more than 40 students in a single class.

Classroom overcrowding has sadly become the new normal. The issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon, so schools and teachers must create workable solutions to make the best out of a bad situation.

Problems Created by Overcrowded Classrooms

Teaching in an overcrowded classroom can be frustrating, overwhelming and stressful. An overcrowded classroom presents challenges that can feel nearly impossible to overcome, even to the most effective teachers. Increasing class sizes is a sacrifice many schools have to make in order to keep their doors open in an era where schools are underfunded.

Overcrowded classrooms create a number of problems for modern school systems, including:

There is not enough of the teacher to go around. Students perform better when the teacher is able to give one-on-one or small-group instruction on a regular basis. As classroom size increases, this becomes increasingly difficult to do.

Overcrowding increases classroom discipline issues. Large classes packed with students provide more opportunities for personality conflicts, tension, and general disruptive behavior. Even the best teachers find it difficult to manage an overcrowded classroom successfully and can find themselves spending more time managing their classroom than they do teaching.

Struggling students fall further behind. Average and below-average students will struggle to advance in an overcrowded classroom. These students need more direct instruction, one-on-one instructional time and minimal distractions to maximize their learning potential.

Standardized test scores suffer. While many teachers would argue that there is an overemphasis placed on test scores especially in America’s public schools, the chance of successfully improving proficiency on a standardized test decreases as the number of students in the classroom increases.

The overall noise level is increased. This is an expected result when you increase the number of students in the classroom. Louder classrooms translate to distractions making it more difficult for students to learn and for teachers to teach.

Teacher stress is increased often leading to teacher burnout. More students translate to more stress. Many excellent teachers are opting to leave the profession because it is not worth the stresses they deal with on a daily basis.

Overcrowding leads to less access to equipment and technology. Space is already at a premium for many schools and there often is not enough room to accommodate specialties such as science or a computer lab.

District Solutions to Overcrowded Classrooms

Increasing class sizes should be the last resort for any school district. It should never be a starting point. There are many other ways to trim a budget. If all other options are exhausted, then schools may be forced to enact what is known as a reduction in force, where teachers and staff are laid off for budgetary reasons and class sizes subsequently increase.

Even with tight budgets, districts can take certain actions to ease overcrowding issues:

Take advantage of ability grouping. Schools should use benchmark assessments to determine student placement. Class sizes should be kept relatively small for those who perform unsatisfactorily. Students who are strong academically have less to lose in an overcrowded classroom.

Provide teachers with an aide. Providing a teacher with an aide can help decrease the burden on the teacher. Aides receive a lower salary, so placing them in overcrowded classrooms would improve the student/teacher ratios while keeping costs low.

Lobby for more funding. Schools administrators and teachers should regularly lobby their state and local representatives for more funding. They should keep them apprised of issues overcrowding is causing. Administrators can also invite them to spend time at their school so that they can see the impact of overcrowding.

Solicit local donations. Private schools are able to keep their doors open due to tuition and to a large extent by soliciting donations. In tough financial times, public school administrators should not be afraid to solicit donations either. Teachers across the country have sought and used public donations for everything from technology upgrades to classroom basics like notebooks and paper. Every dollar counts and even garnering enough donations to hire an extra teacher or two each year can make a significant difference.

Apply for grants. There are thousands of grant opportunities made available to schools each year. Grants exist for almost everything including technology, supplies, professional development and even teachers themselves.

Teacher Solutions to Overcrowded Classrooms

Teachers in an overcrowded classroom must be exceptionally organized. They have to be well prepared every day. They must develop a fluid system through trial and error to maximize the time they have with their students. Teachers can generate solutions for overcrowded classrooms by:

Creating energetic and engaging lessons: Every lesson must be enticing, energetic and fun. It is easy for students in any class to be distracted and lose interest, but this is especially true in a large classroom. Lessons must be fast-paced, unique and full of attention grabbers.

Tutoring struggling students who need more time after school: There simply is not enough time to provide struggling students with the one-on-one time that they need. Tutoring these students two to three times a week after school gives them a better shot at being successful.

Assigning seats and rotating when necessary: With a large class, teachers must be structured, and this starts with strategically placed assigned seats. Students who are low academically and/or are behavior issues should be assigned seats toward the front. Students who are high academically and/or are well behaved should be provided seats toward the back.

Understanding that the dynamics in an overcrowded classroom will be different: It is essential that teachers understand that there are significant differences in a classroom of 20 students compared to a classroom of 30 or 40. Teachers have no control over how many students are in their classes, so they cannot allow themselves to become stressed due to things that are out of their control.

Teachers should understand that they are not going to be able to spend time with each student every day. They should understand that they will not get to know each student on a personal level. That is simply the reality in an overcrowded classroom.

Lastly, structure is very important in any classroom but especially so in a classroom with lots of students. Teachers need to establish clear rules and expectations on day one, and then follow through as the year progresses. Clear rules and expectations will help create a much more manageable class—where students know what they are required to do and when—especially an overcrowded one.